Haptic perception in sexuality

Kurt Seikowski and Sabine Gollek

Haptic perception and the functions of the skin

The connections between haptic perception and sexuality arise initially from the actual realisation organ of this form of perception – the skin. The skin itself, however, fulfils various functions, which are related more or less to differing aspects of haptic perception. This is illustrated by two different approaches to skin function which have a number of similarities (Tab. 1).
With respect to our query, the following skin functions appear to be important for the connection between haptic perception and sexuality: The skin, as an organ of borders or contact with the environment, or as protection against stimuli, protects the body against environmental influences such as temperature and humidity fluctuations. In sexual contacts, a partner’s cold or sweaty hand on one’s own skin is usually experienced as reducing lust and evoking rejection. Physical contact which is warm and not unpleasantly damp opens the body for sexual stimulation.
The terms describing the skin as a sensory organ and the skin-self as intersensoriality or as the basis for sexual excitement cover the perception of tactile sensations like cold and warmth, burning, itching, tickling, prickling – that is, all the qualities directly connected with sexual sensations and which are mediated by touch. Sexual contacts can in a sense ‘get under one’s skin’, whereby the erogenous zones play a special role.
Anzieu [1] discusses at this point two further functions which are relevant with respect to impaired sexual development. Under the skinself as a system of tactile sensory traces, he sees the totality of pleasant and unpleasant skin experiences, which represent a sort of information system for the outside world. Touching which was experienced as inadequate was stored and actualised in later forms of physical contacts. Thus, for example, it can even come to ‘skin rejection’ of a person whom one believes one loves. Due to unpleasant prior experience, the skin remains ‘distrustful’. According to Anzieu [1] this prior experience, which was experienced as traumatising, may even lead to expression of physical contact conflicts on the skin: the skinself as a self-destructive mechanism in the sense of self-mutilations of the skin. More will be said of this phenomenon later.